Genesis Of Stamps - Part 2

Later the merchants of the Hanse towns along the Baltic coast set up their Hanseatic League and employed a postal service for their own convenience and occasionally, as a favor perhaps, a message would be carried for someone not a member of the league. Still later the Counts of Thurn and Taxis established a private postal system that covered much of Europe and made their services available to all who would pay their fees. This was the beginning of our modern postal system. In addition to the system operated by the houses of Thurn and Taxis, which, incidentally, was dignified by royal grant, there were various other private postal systems that more or less flourished in parts of Europe. One of these was conducted by the universities of France which had found it expedient to have some means available for the students to write home to get money.

Franz von Taxis stamp
Franz von Taxis (1450-1517), postmaster general of Austria, the Low Countries, Spain, Burgundy, and Italy.

In London in 1680 - almost two hundred years before the introduction of a modern postal system - William Docwra set up a "Penny Post" for the collection and delivery of letters within the limits of London City, which is a model of efficiency even to this day. Docwra established letter boxes at designated points throughout the city as well as various branch offices. Letters would be collected from the boxes every hour and would be stamped at the branch office the exact time of their collection. This post proved so popular and so lucrative that Docwra became involved with the Duke of York who claimed royal prerogative for the delivery of mail. In due course Docwra's post was taken over as a government function. It continued in operation until 1800 when it became "The Two-penny Post."

Up to this point the postal systems of the ancients and even of the "moderns" had left no visible trace of their existence except through accounts of historians. There are exactly thirteen examples of Docwra's post known to stamp collectors. Also, there are desultory evidences of some of the previous posts like clay tablets of Sargon's time preserved in the museums. But it was not until the establishment of a truly public system of posts that we have collectible evidence in the form of letters. More particularly, it was not until the introduction of postage stamps that this evidence became of general interest throughout the civilized world. Stamps did not usher in our present day postal systems. They did, as we shall presently see, inaugurate an idea that was to revolutionize all previous ideas for the carrying of mail. However, to gain a true picture of the great importance postage stamps have played in developing contemporary civilization, we must inspect the conditions that existed just prior to their advent.